Friday, July 25, 2014

Have Flute, Will Travel...

The NFA is just around the corner, and we know that flutists from around the globe will be flying in to Chicago.  That being said, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get our repair technician's thoughts on the best way to travel with a flute.  We all agreed that the preferred method is to hand carry your flute in a gig bag so that is on the plane with you.  Our Customer Service Manager gave us a tip from one of her customers, who always puts his flute (in its gig bag) in the overhead compartment across the aisle from his seat so that he can keep his eyes on it at all times.

However, we realize that it is not always possible to carry your flute on the plane.  We asked our technician about flutes in checked baggage, and she said it would be perfectly fine as long as the flute is well-fitted in the case.  To quote her exactly, "the case is designed to protect the flute, and as long as the flute is fitting properly, there should not be a problem."  How can you tell if it is fitting properly?  Well, you can put the flute in its case and give the closed case a shake.  If you feel or hear anything, the flute is not fitting properly.

Our technician tells us that she has seen flutes come in with cases that have "extra padding" inside the top lid to help protect the flute -- but this is definitely not what you want to do.  She has seen bubble wrap, towels, and all sorts of "padding," but this is a huge problem because the padding is pressing down on the key mechanism.  Her recommendation is to pad the case in the areas where the material would only come in contact with the flute body and never the mechanism.  So, where would that be?  It's on the "blocking" of the case, which you will see in the photos below.  If you visualize the case coming down to close, you will notice that the points of contact are not on any part of the mechanism -- only the body.

Yellow lines outline the right side of blocking.  Yellow arrows show points of contact.
Yellow line outlines left side of blocking.  Yellow arrive shows point of contact.

So, regardless of how the flute is transported (hand carried, checked), making sure that it fits properly in its case is critical.  If it does, the case will be able to "do its job" and protect the flute!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Key Noise?

Key noise is certainly a topic of interest when it comes to flute maintenance and repair.  If you've ever noticed some type of noise coming from your keys, you are not alone.  So, what is the cause of this?  Well, we asked our repair technician, Rachel Baker, and she told us it could be a number of things -- the keys hitting the tops of the tone holes, worn felts, or any number of parts of the mechanism that may be out of adjustment.  She said it really depends on the flute, and each one must be assessed individually to diagnose the key noise issue and repair the flute accordingly. 

If you do hear a noise coming from your keys, Rachel says you'll want to tell your technician exactly which notes you are playing when you hear the noise.  This is helpful because different parts of the mechanism are engaged for different notes.  Sections of the mechanism also function in very particular ways when you are changing from one note to another.  Letting your technician know which notes you are playing when the noise occurs can help him/her focus in on exactly what might be the root of the noise.

Also, one thing to keep in mind when it comes to key noise is that a certain amount of noise from the keys and mechanism are normal.  Rachel tells us that flutes are never "100% silent" when they are played, so some noise might be perfectly harmless.  However, if you do hear a noise, do not hesitate to contact your authorized repair technician.  As Rachel said, key noise may happen for a variety of reasons, and your technician will be able to determine whether the noise is something normal or if it is an indication of a problem that needs to be repaired.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Just a Little Ding...

Dented tenon
We recently heard from a private teacher whose student had "just a little ding" in her flute -- or so the student said.  When the teacher looked at the ding, she found a huge dent.  The teacher said that she had heard before that, "a dent is only bad if you can see it on the inside of the flute."  We thought that seemed to make sense, theoretically, but was it 100% accurate?  We decided to ask our repair technician, Rachel Baker.

Repairing a dented headjoint
It would certainly be handy to have a point of reference to tell if the dent in your flute is serious.  After all, small dents and dings are quite common.  When we asked Rachel if there was a way to gauge the severity of a dent, she said quite simply, "If you play the flute and everything sounds normal, feels normal, and you are playing in tune, everything is fine."  She said that dents are generally a cosmetic issue.  However, if you notice a difference in your sound and/or are struggling to play, the dent should definitely be examined by your technician.  Rachel told us that in addition to dents on the body and headjoint, posts can get dented, too.  When this occurs, the mechanism will not be functioning properly -- and it will definitely need to be repaired.  Also, dents in the tenon could affect the fit and function, so make sure to contact your repair technician if this happens. 

If an accident happens, and you get a small ding, it is quite possible that no real harm has been done.  Rachel says, "Dents are not the end of the world..."  But, just make sure to take note of how your flute sounds and feels -- if there is a difference, contact your authorized repair technician. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spare Parts?

Recently, our repair office received a call from a music store looking to order a key for their customer's vintage Powell.  For many musical instruments, it is common practice to call the manufacturer when you need a replacement part.  However, in the case of this Powell, it was not possible for a new key to be purchased and shipped in the mail as the shop had expected.  Inconvenient as it might be, there is actually a very good reason for this...

Key cups and arms
At Powell, we make custom flutes with custom parts to fit each flute individually.  So, its not possible for us to have stock parts ready to ship.  If a key needs to be replaced, it actually has to be made by hand in the stringing department and then fitted to the flute.  That being said, this customer would have to send the flute here, and our stringers would make a new key.  And, even before the key is made, the component parts to make the key would have to be made!

After our repair technician, Rachel, explained why we could not send out a "replacement part," it seemed quite simple -- a custom flute has custom parts, and only custom parts!  It's not possible to keep stock of something custom, because it is one of a kind.  But, we started to wonder about parts for regular maintenance, like pads and shims.  So, we asked her, "What if you need a pad replaced?"  Rachel said, "Oh, pads are 'soft parts,' so they are not custom.  Only the 'hard parts' like the keys and mechanism tubing on a custom flute would need to be made."

Rachel's example of "hard parts" and "soft parts" cleared things up for us.  She says its perfectly fine to take your flute to an authorized Powell repair technician for regular maintenance like a C.O.A. (clean, oil, adjust) since only the "soft parts" like pads might need to be replaced.  Also, pads and shims are made to standard dimensions, so in that case, they are all made to meet very specific measurements and can be easily purchased by repair technicians.

Soldering arm to cup
Finished key

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The "Play In"

Etudes and stand in the repair office for the play-in.
We were just about to visit with our Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, earlier this week, when we arrived at her office door and found it closed.-- with her inside the office practicing.  We waited a bit, and then a bit more, and after about 20 minutes, she packed up and left for the day.  Sadly, we missed the chance to see what was going on in the repair office that day, but we came back later to tell Rachel we enjoyed her practicing!

Not an official play-in, but a quick check on an alto.
Come to find out, Rachel was not practicing -- she was doing a "play in" after completing a repair.  She told us that this is normal for any repair she does involving pads -- replacing pads, shimming pads, or making any other pad adjustments.  The purpose of the play in is to make sure that everything is okay after the repair and that nothing has "shifted."  She told us that she usually does the play in for about 20 minutes because it is like a mini practice session, and any change in pad seating would happen after about 15 minutes.  She selects various etudes that allow her to play the full range of notes on the flute where every key will be pressed.

What happens if she discovers a problem during the play in?  Well, she told us that she would then set the flute aside and wait a day before making adjustments -- just to let the flute settle back in after being played.  She told us, "After a repair, if there is a problem, it should be for me -- not for the customer."  So, just as new flutes are played in during the finishing process, the same holds true for repairs.  Rachel makes sure that after a repair is done at her bench, she'll know that everything is functioning as it should once the flute is back in the customer's hands -- literally!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

New Anti-Tarnish Strips

New anti-tarnish strips
It's summertime, and we can all enjoy the long days, sunlight, and warm temperatures.   The change in temperature is certainly welcome for many of us, but it is often accompanied by higher humidity as well. This increase in humidity can also mean that you find yourself cleaning off tarnish from your flute more often.

We had a previous post about anti-tarnish squares which you can read by following this link. Our Vice President of Production, Rob Viola, came across new anti-tarnish strips from 3M that he found to be even better, so these will now be in the cases of new flutes.  However, they are also available for purchase at the VQP Shop at

Now that we have these new strips, we wondered if there is a particular part of the case where they should be placed for maximum effectiveness. Our Repair Technician and Customer Service Manager said that you can really place them anywhere you'd like -- other than inside the flute! They also noted that it's okay if you open your case and find that the strip has moved.  The strips are very light and will not damage your flute if they move in the case.  At Powell, we place the strip in the bottom left-hand corner inside of the top of the case -- simply because it fits well there!

So, enjoy the beautiful summer weather, but don't let the higher humidity get the best of your flute.  Always remember to swab out your instrument thoroughly, and consider adding a small anti-tarnish strip inside the case. You'll want to replace the strip from time to time since they do wear out. Also, if you purchase a new Powell and see this strip, don't throw it away -- it can help keep your flute happy and tarnish-free!

Bottom left corner inside the top of the case is a good spot for the strip.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Continuity of Care

Customers will often times stop by the shop and request to have our repair technician take a look at their flutes -- kind of like going to the doctor for a check-up.  If our technician finds multiple "ailments," in many cases, the customer is quite surprised!  So, how can you uncover issues that need to be remedied?

Well, sometimes you alone may not be able to uncover your flute's ailments.   That being said, having one technician to provide "continuity of care" is important to the health of your flute.  When you stay with one technician, s/he will know the history of your flute -- how many times it has been in the shop, what repairs have been done, and how often it has been serviced for regular maintenance.  Also, it's very important to establish a good relationship with your technician so that you can both work together to keep your flute healthy.  You want to have a strong rapport and know that you can call him/her to discuss anything that you think might need to be repaired.

Always evaluate your own playing and realize that if something does not seem "quite right," it could be an underlying issue with your flute -- and not "user error."  If you find yourself pressing down on your keys harder, noticing a difference in the quality of your sound, or having any other problems that seem out of the ordinary, these may be indications of a technical problem that can be addressed by your repair technician.  Your technician's knowledge of the history of your flute will help make diagnosing problems much easier, and having a good relationship in place with your technician should assure you that together, you and your tech can give your flute the care it requires to stay healthy!